Asking Your Elderly Parent to Stop Driving: Five Tips to Start the Heart-to-Heart

Getting our driver’s license gave many of us our first taste of freedom. Over the years, that little card let us go anywhere we wanted, whenever we wanted. So, it’s no surprise that if someone threatens to take it away, we would fight tooth and nail to hold on to it.

If your parent has become a danger on the road due to the effects of aging, convincing them to stop driving for their safety and that of others can quickly escalate into a head-to-head battle. But there are some steps you can take to make the talk easier on both of you.

When age curbs your loved one’s time behind the wheel

Overall, seniors are extremely safe drivers since they’re more likely to observe speed limits and wear their safety belts. But age-related health conditions can compromise their driving ability. Slower reaction times and a limited range of mobility make avoiding an accident more difficult. Medications impact their awareness on the road, and poor eyesight alters their depth perception and peripheral vision.

You can help prevent a future tragedy by working with your parent to find solutions that reduce their driving time but also protect their independence in the years to come. It just requires a solid plan:

  1. Start the conversation early. Don’t wait until an accident happens before addressing your concerns. Talk to your parent as soon as you notice their movements are a little slower or they start a new medication. It may be years before it’s time to put down the keys, but agreeing on warning signs early and writing them down together can help reduce painful conversations down the road. AARP offers a free online seminar with talking points that can help.
  2. Take baby steps. Depending on your parent’s abilities, suggest they back off from driving little by little. Heading out to the store during the day may be no problem, but they may want to skip driving at night, in bad weather or over long distances as their health declines.
  3. Keep calm and remain patient. In most cases, the decision to stop driving won’t happen after one conversation. This is a life-changing transition for them, and if you are empathetic and supportive rather than angry and judgmental, you can make the situation less painful. If they refuse to listen to your concerns, speak to how their actions may affect those they love. For instance, “I want to make sure your grandkids are safe when they’re riding with you,” may lead them to give their driving a second look.
  4. Talk with their healthcare provider. Your parent may not take advice from their kids, but may accept it from a medical professional they trust. Join them on their next doctor’s visit or speak with their home health care provider the next time they visit to present your concerns to a neutral third party who will address them from a medical standpoint.
  5. Discuss their options. Ensure your loved one that handing over their keys won’t stop them from getting where they need to go. Create a driving schedule with friends and family members, sign your loved one up with Uber or Lyft, or find free and low-cost senior transportation options through Missouri 2-1-1AccuCare Home Health Care of St. Louis also provides transportation to the grocery store, appointments, and other personal appointments.

If your parents absolutely refuse to stop driving, and their time on the road could threaten the lives of other drivers and pedestrians, you can submit an anonymous Driver Condition Report to the Missouri DMV. The driver will receive a notice by certified mail to take a test and must complete it within 30 days (and pass) to maintain their license. While reporting a parent is the last thing any child wants to do, it prevents you from being the bad guy and can help avoid an accident that could change your family’s life forever.

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